Visitors have flocked in their thousands to Yorkshire’s newest attraction, Experience Barnsley, which opened its doors to the public on 27 June. Over 5,000 people attended over its first weekend, to what is a very special attraction and one with a difference: the first-ever museum about Barnsley, it’s been created by thousands of local people donating objects, stories and photographs. The project started over seven years ago and included collaboration with many local history groups, historians and many museums across the UK.
Large parts of Barnsley’s distinctive Town Hall, with its Portland-stone clocktower, have been transformed. The project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund.
It tells a unique and powerful story, of a town and surrounding villages from thousands of years ago, through a great industrial age to the present day.
The galleries within the museum bustled with visitors of all ages. People gazed into cases packed with objects, watched films, got hands-on with state-of-the-art exhibits. The voice of Brian Blessed, from nearby Goldthorpe, boomed from a film projected onto one wall. In a corner nearby, visitors tapped their feet to the singer Kate Rusby, known as ‘the English Nightingale’ and Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Visitors from near and wide were taken aback, amazed at the sheer amount of history on their doorstep, surprised at hidden stories which they never realized Barnsley had to share.
From beautiful pieces of glass and the bravery of colliers deep underground, to medieval gargoyles and sporting heroes, visitors came away chatting about what they’d discovered. The new museum’s café and shop were packed with excited visitors. Many reminisced, exchanged stories passed down through generations. Many came clutching photographs and donations to share.
Visitors came from and wide. One group in the queue for opening on Sunday morning had come from Cornwall. Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing with praise for the new museum. Comments have included ‘Brilliant’, ‘Stunning’, ‘Visit!’ and ‘Barnsley has so much to be proud of’.
A new Discovery Centre gives visitors the chance to get hands-on and make their own history too. Thousands of maps, photographs, films and much more on offer saw visitors stood and seated around tables in a carefully transformed wing of the Town Hall – many stayed for hours. Some have come back every day.
Okay… so that’s the official line that has been sent out to press. Pretty impressive right?
Some of my regular readers on facebook will know that I now work at Experience Barnsley. I’m one of the three folk based in the museum and information centre in Experience Barnsley. We are there to greet and guide you around the exhibits – and maybe even entertain your children with tales about young’ns working darn t’pitt or even of Barnsley’s Roman history.
I’ve been working at Experience Barnsley for nearly three weeks now, and I can honestly say that I’ve not smiled as much at work for years. I’m proud, happy and excited to be working in such an amazing place.
That opening weekend was fantastic, but it wasn’t a patch on the reactions of those who came and visited. In this first week alone we have had around 8,000 visitors, and they have come from far and wide. We have had visitors from all corners of Yorkshire, families have ventured from as far afield in the UK as east, south and west coasts. Not only that (for the naysayers who wondered whether or not a museum would actually bring tourism to Barnsley), we have had visitors from Hungary, Chernobyl in the Ukraine, USA, Russia and Brazil.
A common reaction to the museum is ‘we didn’t expect much, but it’s amazing’ and ‘Just what Barnsley needs – something to be really proud of’. I’ve seen people smile, laugh and cry and I’ve heard so many people be inspired by the stories in the museum. So much so that they have come and told me their own inspiring stories. Just today, one elderly gentleman told me about how his dad grew up in Dodworth. His grandfather had died at a young age leaving his with just his mother who happened to be ‘cripple’. His dad spent his days caring for his grandmother, carrying her around from place to place. Not only was he a full-time carer, he also went on to enter many sporting competitions around the UK, eventually winning a Mr Britain competition. How amazing is that?
One of the most inspiring things about both working in the museum and just having a museum in Barnsley, is seeing the children explore, play and learn as they play in the archaeological dig, look at the prehistoric fossils or lay inside the pretend coal mine-shaft, listening to the voices of children’s Royal Commission reports for the Husker Tragedy.
And if you do have children, you’re in for a treat this summer as we have free history inspired arts workshops everyday of the week throughout the summer holidays.
Barnsley is very lucky to get this funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, so I hope this successful first week continues long into 2014 and that Experience Barnsley becomes a real focal point and tourist attraction for both Barnsley and Yorkshire.
To say more about the exhibits in the museum will give away way too much. Come visit and be surprised by what you’ll discovery, and leave with stories to tell others.
Experience Barnsley is open every day of the week and is FREE ENTRY,
Mon – FRI: 10am – 5pm
SAT: 10am – 4pm
SUN: 11am – 4pm
If you want to find out more about Experience Barnsley Museum and Discovery Centre, then visit the following links: